The Checker Maven

The World's Most Widely Read Checkers and Draughts Publication
Bob Newell, Editor-in-Chief

Published every Saturday morning in Honolulu, Hawai`i

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Win or Draw? It's Fifty-Fifty!

This month in our Checker School column you have a fifty-fifty chance of getting the right answer even if you don't know a thing about checkers! Here's the position we're going to consider.


Black to Play


Only two moves look possible for Black in this tough situation.

Consider: 9-14 loses quickly to 7-2 followed by 6-9, while 17-14 goes down almost as quickly via 6-10 14-17 23-18 17-21 10-14.

That just leaves 17-21 and 17-22.

One of these two allows White to win; it's known as Wardell's Win. The other obtains a draw for Black, and goes by the name Sweeney's Draw. All you have to do is say which is which! So, even if you just guess at the solution, you have even odds of getting it right!

Of course, all of you two-fisted checkerists will undoubtedly want to go on and demonstrate just how the win or draw takes place ... won't you?

Whether you work it all out or just play the odds, there's one sure thing: clicking on Read More will give you the answers, sample games, and explanatory notes, all courtesy of Ben Boland and his classic book Famous Positions in the Game of Checkers.

[Read More]
10/27/07 - Printer friendly version
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Thirkell's Folly

It's a "Willie Ryan" Saturday today, as we continue with our electronic republication of his classic Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard. These monthly excerpts seem to rank among our most popular columns, and with good reason: there was no one else in checker history quite like Willie; a master player who was also a most engaging writer and instructor. Here's what Willie has to say this time.

"Peter Thirkell, a prolific and talented analyst and problemist, held a prominent place as the draughts oracle of 70 years ago. But sometimes Pondering Peter, like the rest of us, pulled glaring boners. Witness his oversight in the following game, in which he passed up one of the most beautiful in-and-out shots ever to adorn the board.

10-1529-25 11-16
23-19 16-23 25-22
6-10 26-19 16-23
22-17 8-11 27-11
1-6 17-13 7-16
25-22 3-8 32-27
11-16 22-17 10-15---A

White to Play and Win


A---Given by Thirkell to draw, but it loses. 8-11 or 16-20 will produce a draw easily."

Fool around with this problem all you wish, but don't be fooled; it's no folly to click on Read More to see the very fine solution.

[Read More]
10/20/07 - Printer friendly version
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Checker School today brings us a problem that exhibits a certain form of symmetry; not the perfect symmetry of our photo, to be sure, but nevertheless an appealing geometric pattern. The position is credited to a Mr. Brooks, and looks like this.

A. Brooks

Black to Play and Win


As it turns out, reflecting our theme of symmetry, Black has not one but two ways of winning. Can you find them both?

Reflect on this for a while, but if you can't mirror the winning thought process, a simple click on Read More will flip to the solution page, which contains the answer to the problem, a sample game, and detailed notes, all courtesy of Ben Boland.

[Read More]
09/22/07 - Printer friendly version
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Wyllie's Switcher Swindle

Once again it's time for an installment from one of the greatest checker books of all time, Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard. This month Willie takes us back in checker history, to a stratagem employed by Scotland's legendary James Wyllie. Willie tells us all about it in his own well-chosen words.

"It is impossible to record the historic stratagems of the world's great draughts players without including the hallowed name of James Wyllie of Scotland, father of modern checkers and the game's first full-time professional. Here we review one of the wily Scot's best-known thunderbolts:

11-15 6-10 4-8
21-17---A 22-17 29-25
9-1313-22 11-15
25-21 26-17 30-26
8-11 15-18 6-9---B
17-14 24-20
10-17 2-6
21-14 28-24

forming the diagram.


White to Play and Win

A---The Switcher opening; weak for white. Champion Wyllie was first to use and develop the gambit, and despite its inherent weakness, he doomed many a master with the white pieces.

B---Caught! White now ends all organized resistance with a neat double-action bust-up. The correct play at B is: 15-19, 24-15, 10-19, 23-16, 12-19, 27-23, 18-27, 32-16, 6-9, 26-22, 9-18, 22-15, 8-12, 16-11, 7-16, 20-11, 3-7, 11-2, 1-6, 2-9, 5-30, ending in a draw."

Will you too be swindled, or can you find your way to the solution? Try it out, but be sure to count your change before clicking on Read More to see how it's done.

[Read More]
09/15/07 - Printer friendly version
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Barker's Bounce

As each month we continue to republish Willie Ryan's masterful Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, we can't help but notice that the situations presented are, at least in a general sense, increasing in difficulty.

But no matter. We have Willie at our electronic side to explain it all. Here's one he calls Barker's Bounce for reasons that we'll let him explain for himself.

"This useful study shows how Champion G. F. Barker gave the bounce to James P. Reed in their stubbornly fought American Championship battle of 1891. Ever since that time, the losing move at A has been carefully sidestepped by all alert generals of the board.

12-163- 8 15-19---A
24-2026-22 20-11
8-1211-15 8-15
28-2420-11 23-16

forming the diagram.


White to Play and Win


A---This is where Reed took the road to ruin. The only move that will produce a draw is: 5-9*, 20-11, 15-18, 22-15, 10-26, 30-23, 8-15, 17-10, 15-19, 23-16, 12-19, 10-7, 2-11, 25-22, 11-15, 31-26, 4-8, etc. Willie Gardner."

Will this problem give you the bounce too, or will you rebound and solve it? In any case you can roll along to Willie's solution just by clicking on Read More.

[Read More]
08/18/07 - Printer friendly version
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Horsefall's Stroke

Continuing with our ongoing series taken from Willie Ryan's Tricks Traps & Shots of the Checkerboard, this month we present a complex problem that Willie himself admired greatly, as he clearly states below.

"No compendium of classical coups would be complete without including the historical Horsefall Stroke, which I consider one of the great masterpieces of scientific play. Here's the run-up:

11-15 4-8 14-21
23-18 25-22 18-14
8-11 8-11 9-18
27-23 29-25 22-8
11-16 10-14 1-6*
18-11 31-27 8-4
16-20 6-10---A 6-10*
24-19 19-15 4-8
7-16 10-19 3-7*
22-18 21-17 8-11---B

Black to Play and Draw

A---Weak, but drawable. The following makes an easier draw: 3-8, 19-15, 2-7, 22-17, 7-10, 17-13, 10-19, 26-22, 19-26, 30-23, 14-17, 21-14, 11-15, 18-4, 9-18, 23-14, 6-9, etc.

B---Strongest, forming position illustrated. If instead of 8-11, white moves 25-22, the only moves to draw are: 7-11*, 8-6, 2-9, 22-18, 9-13*, 18-14, 13-17, 14-10 (23-18, 21-25, 30-21, 19-24 results in a draw), 5-9, 23-18, 9-13, 18-15, 17-22."

We're well beyond the introductory material in Mr. Ryan's classic book, so you can't expect an easy ride. Don't horse around; try to rein in the problem, and then click on Read More to gallop directly to the Willie's solution.

[Read More]
07/21/07 - Printer friendly version
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How to Beat Granddad at Checkers

It was our pleasure quite recently to receive in the mail a copy of a wonderful new checker book, John Cardie's How to Beat Granddad at Checkers, and we simply can't say enough good things about it.

Mr. Cardie's book is based partly on the premise that grandparents have a lot to offer to grandchildren, and that many important lessons can be imparted over the checkerboard. So, to a large extent, the book is about much more than checkers: it's about life, and wisdom, and family, and learning, and teaching. It's about precious hours that grandparents and grandchildren can spend together and about the wonderful and irreplaceable memories that these moments create. Mr. Cardie's book speaks to the heart as much as to the mind.

Of course, there's checker content galore, and grandparents will likely learn a great deal themselves. After an introduction which convincingly explains why checkers is a good thing for both grownups and youngsters, Mr. Cardie teaches about the numbered board and checker notation, and then jumps right into basic checker tactics. (Presumably, grandparents can teach the rules and other basics on their own, although there is a later chapter in the book with the official rules of checkers.) Mr. Cardie has invented some very clever new names for old tactics, such as "the sandwich move" for what is traditionally known as "breeches." Some of the names are really catchy, such as "Twins in the Closet" for a particular three king vs. two king endgame. The book as well is liberally sprinkled with pages of general instruction, such as lessons on sportsmanship, and interestingly titled items like "Earnings and Yearnings" and many more, which use checkerboard situations as analogues for life. There are a number of checker puzzles of appropriate difficulty; and a listing of checker websites and resources rounds out the volume.

Some time back, we reviewed Galina Golant's excellent book, Play Checkers With Me. Ms. Golant's book was at the small child, introductory level. Mr. Cardie's book is the next step up, and is suitable for use with children who are a few years older, perhaps from the age of six or seven onwards. But there is no question that adults too will enjoy the book and benefit from it.

We hear that Mr. Cardie may be able to land a national distribution contract for the book through a prominent chain. We're sworn to secrecy about the details, but we certainly hope that comes to pass.

Author John Cardie

Obtaining this book is easy and inexpensive, and something that we recommend you do without delay. Just go to Mr. Cardie's website at for full details on ordering options. It's a book that is not to be missed.

06/30/07 - Printer friendly version
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First Issue of Draughts Razoo Now Available Online

Nick McBride, British checkerist and publisher, has generously made available an electronic version of the inaugural issue (Summer/Autumn 2003) of Draughts Razoo. You can download your free copy here.

Draughts Razoo, though only a handful of issues ever made their way into print, was a real marvel of excellent writing, first-class typography, and quality content. As publishers ourselves, we know what it takes to produce work of this type: an enormous investment of time and effort backed by not inconsiderable skill and judgment.

Our hats are off to Nick, both for what he accomplished with Draughts Razoo and for his giving it away, free, in a new electronic version. Enjoy!

05/12/07 - Printer friendly version
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The Legendary Tinsley

We once again have the privilege of presenting a new book by grandmaster Richard Pask. It's his exhaustive compilation of the checker career of Dr. Marion F. Tinsley, arguably the greatest checker player who ever lived, and is entitled simply The Legendary MFT.

The book is filled with games, commentary, and notes, and contains thorough indexing by opening and opponent, and much, much more, including an introduction by none other than Richard Fortman. It's simply too rich to fully describe here, so we invite you to download the book at once, by clicking here, or visiting our Richard Pask page as linked in the downloads section of the right hand column. The book is completely free thanks to the generosity of Mr. Pask.

To get you in the mood, as if that were necessary, we've chosen a situation covered in the book from the legendary Hellman-Tinsley match. This contest of titans started out with 24 draws, and then Mr. Hellman made a slip resulting in this position (having just played 17-14).


Black to Play and Win


You will not be surprised to know that Dr. Tinsley found the winning line of play, and drew first blood, going on to take the championship with three wins by the conclusion of the match.

Can you match wits with The Legendary Tinsley and find the winning line on your own? Can you correct Mr. Hellman's play and show how he could have held the draw?

A tall order, to be sure, but answers are just a click away; pressing Read More will bring you the entire game with annotations and comments, and, of course, the answers to our questions.

Hold the Phone: A Post-Publication Addendum

We're delighted that The Checker Maven has interested and attentive readers. After publication of this article, we heard from long-time correspondent Brian Hinkle, an analyst with a keen eye for position. He consulted with Ed Gilbert, and the fruits of their collaboration may have overturned history, not to mention the results of our proposed problem. Click on Read More for the rest of the story.)</p> [Read More]

04/21/07 - Printer friendly version
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Uncle Ben's Porch: Cookies and Checkers

I had missed a Saturday morning on Uncle Ben's porch, as last weekend he hadn't been feeling very well and told me he needed his rest. It wasn't very often that he canceled our lessons, and I was worried about his health, to tell the truth about it.

So, when I got home from school yesterday, you can imagine how pleased I was to hear that Uncle Ben had called and left word with Mom that he'd be delighted to have me make my regular Saturday visit this week. Of course, Mom fussed and bothered, saying that I shouldn't annoy the kindly gentleman when he was just getting to feeling a bit better, but she relented when I said that he might be a bit disappointed if I didn't show up. Still, she insisted that I take a plate of home-baked chocolate chip cookies along with me, and warned me not to be eating them on the way over!

I skipped down the sidewalk as fast as I could, given the heaping plate of cookies I was carrying, and soon arrived at the old familiar porch. There was Uncle Ben, looking chipper and pleased, with his trademark pitcher of lemonade looking icy and inviting. The checker board was ready, too. We exchanged good-mornings and how-are-yous, and I sat down in my usual place.

"I've got some good ones for you today," Uncle Ben declared, "but don't you think we ought to have some cookies and lemonade first, to get our brains working?"

I pointed out that Mom had told me quite clearly not to eat the cookies and that they were to be saved for Uncle Ben, but Uncle Ben just winked at me and said, "You just tell your Mom that I insisted!" That was good enough for me, and we each had several cookies and a tall glass of lemonade, quietly enjoying the calm Florida morning.

"All right then, to work!" exclaimed Uncle Ben. "How would you go about winning this one?" He indicated the position on the checkerboard with a wave of his cookie-laden hand, and then he gave me that smile--- the one that always told me that this wasn't going to be easy, but that I could get the answer if I tried hard enough.


White to Play and Win


Uncle Ben's Porch is a fanciful and fictional characterization of the retirement years of the great checker author Ben Boland, with positions drawn from his classic Familiar Themes in the Game of Checkers. You're going to have to come up with your own cookies and lemonade, but clicking on Read More will give you the solution to this problem, a complete sample game demonstrating the theme, and a round dozen diagrammed positions and solutions based on the same motif.

[Read More]
03/31/07 - Printer friendly version
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The Checker Maven is produced at editorial offices in Honolulu, Hawai`i. Original material is Copyright © 2004-2018 Avi Gobbler Publishing. Other material is the property of the respective owners. Information presented on this site is offered as-is, at no cost, and bears no express or implied warranty as to accuracy or usability. You agree that you use such information entirely at your own risk. No liabilities of any kind under any legal theory whatsoever are accepted. The Checker Maven is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Bob Newell, Sr.

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